Despite all the challenges associated with COVID-19, Orlando-based Restaurant Equipment World never closed for a single day during the pandemic. “We were still busy supporting customers and flew 115 days last year,” said President CEO Brad Pierce.
In fact, Restaurant Equipment World has actually added staff since the start of the pandemic. While competitors in the restaurant supply sector had to lay off employees, Pierce’s company remained profitable in a daunting year – thanks to all that flying.
“The airplane kept us busy during COVID and enabled us to keep staff,” said Pierce. “Last year, most customers had restrictions in place, where you could not visit if you’d been on a commercial airliner in the past two weeks. A surprise benefit of business aviation was that customers allowed me to visit since I was in my own ‘bubble’ flying myself.”
Staying in front of customers during the pandemic made it possible for Pierce to maintain relationships and keep Restaurant Equipment World financially secure. Today, the commercial kitchen business has more projects scheduled than ever and is picking up business from competitors because it is so well-positioned and well-staffed.
Customers in Crisis
Pierce flies himself in a Cirrus SR22T to visit customers, understand their business needs, scope projects and ensure kitchen appliances are properly installed and working right. Since NBAA spoke with him for a member profile in 2010, Restaurant Equipment World has expanded substantially.
“Every year, we’ve outpaced – often doubled – average growth in our industry,” said Pierce. “My flying has enabled us to expand our operations and footprint dramatically. My team is the lifeblood of this business, while my talent is meeting and getting in front of customers. In the last year, that was more important than ever.”
Food service operations everywhere were scrambling in the first months of the pandemic. Restaurants were trying to pay the rent and keep staff during shutdowns. Nursing homes and military bases, which
Restaurant Equipment World serves in several states, did not have the option to shut down, and they urgently needed a steady supply of personal protective equipment (PPE).
“In those early months, our customers were in crisis,” said Pierce, “I told our team not to worry about making a dime of money that year. I just wanted to talk to our customers and ask them, ‘How can we help you get through this?’”
During this period, the only way military customers would accept visitors was if Pierce was traveling on his own.
Fortunately, Restaurant Equipment World was able to supply masks and other PPE when few other suppliers could get this vital equipment. Flying in the SR22T to be there in person, Pierce learned that military and commercial customers alike also needed partitions, touchless condiment dispensers and other materials for sanitization and social distancing.
“It was really dire at that time; these restaurants looked like they could lose everything,” said Pierce. “We were just trying to help. When we go to customers with that attitude, as a partner, they tend to reward us with more business.”
Relationships with customers – and new orders – were so strong in the summer of 2020 that Pierce decided to replace his previous SR22 with a new, turbo-powered G6 model. By December, he took possession of the new airplane, becoming the launch customer for the 8,000th aircraft Cirrus produced, a limited edition SR22T with a Volt 8K color scheme.
“I bought an airplane during a pandemic, and my employees saw that it was a good business move,” said Pierce. “First, we’ve been very fiscally responsible. We have not laid anyone off, we’ve even increased the number of employees. We had more than a year of runway; our finances were very healthy.”
Second, Pierce is flying many more hours than he was 10 years ago, when NBAA last visited him.
“It seems like my movements are twice as ambitious as before,” said Pierce. “This new airplane has the quality and performance to keep me moving.”
Visiting customers practically nonstop, Pierce has never truly canceled a trip for weather. Instead, he checks radar and forecasts constantly. If he has a dozen customers to visit in multiple states, he will reshuffle the schedule to avoid hazardous weather. He may delay a departure several days and extend a visit – basing every decision on safety – so flexibility and redundancy are important to him.
That was Pierce’s third reason for buying the 8K edition SR22T: the safety features, including the Cirrus Airframe Parachute System, provide more assurance for a CEO/pilot flying solo across the country one out of every three days a year.
“This is the perfect airplane for my business-critical operations to serve my customers quickly and efficiently,” declared Pierce.
The Cirrus 8K has already delivered on that promise, keeping Pierce in front of customers and Restaurant Equipment World’s order book growing throughout 2021. In July, Pierce followed one swing through 15 states with another trip stopping in 14 different states.
“Covering more than half the U.S. in one month isn’t bad,” said Pierce, who was already planning another multi-state flight up the East Coast.
Restaurant Equipment World supplies military bases all across the United States, and “a lot of military bases are not close to major hub airports,” Pierce points out, so the ability to land directly on smaller or remote airfields is “a huge plus to having a business airplane.”
On the commercial side of its business, Restaurant Equipment World recently recorded a big win, adding a national restaurant chain as a customer, and the airplane enables Pierce to be at franchise openings – in small towns as well as in major markets.
“The head office selected our company to support 200 new chain stores around the country, and the franchisees probably don’t know us,” explained Pierce, “so it’s very important to be able to show up, meet them and help them get set up.”
In a year and a half of global supply chain disruptions, Pierce also has been able use his business airplane to meet with vendors and manufacturers to work out issues and fill orders as quickly as possible. That keeps Restaurant Equipment World employees busy – and customers happy.
“The airplane is absolutely part of our competitive strategy,” said Pierce. “I love that my team and my customers see the value. Coming off the past year, we are positioned to win.”
A True Business Aviation Champion
In July, Brad Pierce went to EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, WI, with his new 8K limited edition SR22T. The boldly painted airplane drew lots of admirers, giving Pierce an opportunity to engage in one of his favorite activities: evangelizing fellow business leaders to join the business aviation community.
“I’m always talking to other CEOs, trying to get them into business aviation,” said Pierce.
The Restaurant Equipment World CEO has made more than a few converts. One business owner, a colleague and friend, was inspired to buy a Cirrus SR22 after hearing how it helped Pierce grow his business. That owner/operator has since moved on to an Eclipse jet and now flies an Embraer Phenom 300.
Pierce makes it clear to anyone he talks to about business aviation that the decision to own and operate an aircraft should come down to how it could help support the business.
“I always ask them, ‘How do you think you could use it for business?’” said Pierce. “Basically, ‘What’s your value proposition?’” And when a new operator starts flying, “I’ve seen operators in all different industries increase their number of customers,” said Pierce.
Pierce’s final bit of advice to new operators is simple: join NBAA for all the knowledge and support the association provides.
Aircraft: One Limited Edition Cirrus SR22T
Base: Headquartered at Orlando Executive Airport (ORL)
Personnel: CEO Brad Pierce is the owner/operator and sole pilot